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In a city where almost every kind of food is available at anytime of year, coconuts remain exotic.I don’t mean shredded coconut which has a wonderful crunch and gives great texture to pies, cakes and cookies. Nor am I referring to coconut cream—as insanely rich as good butter—sold by the can in Asian food stores and an essential ingredient in Thai and other South Asian cooking. I mean real coconut with a hard shell and a half-cup or so of cool coconut milk deep within.

A fist-sized chunk of coconut (about 30 grams) has a fair amount of fiber, a little iron, and no cholesterol. But it is very high in saturated fat. If you eat coconut occasionally, this probably doesn’t matter, but if you use a lot for snacking or in your cooking, you might want to consider substituting coconut cream or milk in a recipe with a blend of one part coconut powder and four parts hot milk or water.

I like fresh coconut for lots of reasons. First, a good one has a rich, but not too nutty taste and the “milk” is slightly sweet. It should be drunk within a few hours of when it is poured and the “meat” should be eaten soon too, or kept in the fridge for not longer than a couple of weeks. Poor coconut flavour is evident in a soapy taste or a moldy smell. If it doesn’t taste fresh, it isn’t.

The best way to pick a good coconut is to shake it.The sound of milk should slosh around. Try a few and pick the one that feels the heaviest with the most milk. The “eyes”, or three dark spots at one end, should be firm and almost shiny. Don’t buy the nut if any are soft.

Almost as much as the enjoyment of the taste of the white flesh within, is the work necessary to get at it. This is not a simple food that cracks easily like most nuts or strips cleanly like a banana. This is good honest work. Like getting out the bbq, cracking the coconut is a time for showmanship. When else can an adult be called upon to demonstrate that real cooking demands brute force. Go ahead. Impress the kids. Get out the hammer and chisel, the awl and mallet, the vise grips, electric drill or whatever tools you need. I know, real men just use a macheté. I’ve seen it done and I’m not there yet.

Whatever way you crack it open, remember to drain the milk first. This is easily done by poking holes (with an awl or nail) through the softer “eyes.” Then crack the shell with a few deft blows from a hammer so that the coconut falls apart into five or six pieces. Remember to rest the nut on a brick or cement block when you hit it. A wooden counter is too soft. Slip a knife with a thin blade between the flesh and the shell. The meat should easily pop out.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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